After Dolly Parton and Siblings Left Home, Mom and Dad ‘Realized They Didn’t Have That Much in Common’

Article Highlights:

  • Dolly Parton’s parents talked about getting a divorce
  • What the Queen of Country’s said about her father
  • How Parton describes her mother
Stella Parton, Frieda Parton, and Dolly Parton during Recording Frieda Parton's album on January 15, 1981 at Bearsville Studios in Hollywood, CA, United States.
Stella Parton, Frieda Parton, and Dolly Parton | Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Dolly Parton‘s parents got married when her mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton, was 15 and her father, Robert Lee Parton, was 17. Together, they had 12 children. According to the Queen of Country, once she and her siblings all left home to start their own lives, Avie Lee and Robert went through a rough patch. They realized, without their children, they didn’t have a whole lot in common. Here’s what the “Dumb Blonde” singer has said about her parents through the years and the difficulty they faced upon becoming empty nesters.

Dolly Parton’s parents were ‘havin’ their trouble’ in 1981

When Parton was interviewed on The Ralph Emery Show in 1981, she was asked by the host how her “mommy and daddy” were doing.

“Well, they’re havin’ their trouble,” she responded, as recorded in the book, Dolly on Dolly. “You know the thing with Mama and Daddy. . . They’re the best in the world. They were the best parents and they got married so young and started having kids immediately. Mama was fifteen and Daddy was seventeen when they married, had their twelfth kid when Mama was thirty-five, the same age I am right now, and Daddy was thirty-seven. . . with twelve kids! Then, after we all left home, they realized they didn’t have that much in common. They just have a hard time keepin’ it together, so they’re gonna divorce every week but they’re so in love, they never do it.”

Parton’s parents never did get divorced.

The Queen of Country’s mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton

Avie Lee Owens was a haunting singer. She sang lots of old “English, Irish, Welsh, folk songs where people tell stories.” Many have said Parton’s first musical influence was her mother. Practically a kid herself, Avie Lee was sympathetic to her children’s needs and desires. When Parton insisted on wearing skin-tight clothes, Avie Lee helped her sew them the way she liked. She was the daughter of a preacher and wasn’t allowed to style herself the way she wanted growing up.

“When she was a child, they wouldn’t let her wear any make-up,” Parton said of her mother to Playboy Magazine in 1978. “They all had long hair then and she wanted her hair cut. The very day that her and Daddy got married, she cut her hair off and she kept it short ever since. She said, ‘I swore then that when I had kids, I would not make ’em do things that they were uneasy with.’”

Avie Lee died on December 5, 2003.

Dolly Parton’s father, Robert Lee Parton

Parton wrote about her father in her 2020 book, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. She spoke very highly of her hard-working father, and how he kept their large family housed and fed.

“Daddy raised that whole family on his brains and hard work,” she wrote. “He was such a smart person. I always thought that if Daddy had an education, there’s no telling what he could have been. Because he knew how to barter, he knew how to bargain. He knew how to make everything work, and he knew how to count money. He knew exactly what everything was worth, how much he was going to make from that tobacco crop, what he could trade, and how he could make it all work.”

But there was something that broke the singer’s heart about her father. She wrote that he was “always kind of ashamed” of the fact that he never learned how to read and write.


Dolly Parton on Understanding Her Mother’s Depression as She Got Older

“But it’s not a thing to be ashamed of, because in my daddy’s case, he grew up in a family of fifteen kids, back in the mountains,” she wrote. “You had a one-room schoolhouse, and it was sometimes a mile away. Kids had to go to work in the fields to help feed the family. Because of the weather and because of conditions, a lot of kids couldn’t go to school.” 

The “9 to 5” singer was proud of her father whether he knew how to read and write or not. But his experience did inspire her to start the Imagination Library, a nonprofit organization that provides free books to children.

Robert Lee died on November 19, 2000.